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BBC: Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed: The leader promising to heal a nation January 3, 2019

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Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed: The leader promising to heal a nation

BBC, 3 January 2019

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (C) greets a child as he arrives to welcome Eritrea's President at the airport in Gondar, nothern Ethiopia, on November 9, 2018

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been widely praised for introducing sweeping reforms aimed at ending political repression, writes BBC Africa editor Fergal Keane after visiting the country.

The crowd at the airport in Jimma in Ethiopia’s Oromia region was handpicked and universally rapturous.

But these were not the praise-singing party hacks who so often grace the arrivals and departures of powerful men in Africa.

Men and women, old, young and very young – beaming babies were held above the crowd – had gathered to witness the arrival of a political sensation.

“We are so very happy,” an elderly man shouted to me above the sound of the military band, “it is like a renaissance. We have waited so long for this.”

Shift from autocracy

Then Abiy Ahmed was among us, descending the steps of his plane to delighted cheers, testing the nerves of his security detail as he reached into the crowd to kiss a baby here, embrace an old man there.

I was conscious of an extraordinary fusion between the driven energy of an individual and the hope of a nation. Africa has rarely seen anyone like him.

Cheering supporters of PM Abiy
Image captionPro-democracy activists have welcomed the changes in Ethiopia

At 42 he is the youngest leader on the continent but his impact is far greater than his age suggests.

When the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition elected him prime minister nine months ago the country, Africa’s second largest in terms of population with more than 100 million people, shifted decisively from a long period of autocracy.

He ended a 20-year conflict with neighbouring Eritrea, freed thousands of political prisoners, unfettered the media and appointed women to half the cabinet posts.

Parliament also accepted his female nominees for president and head of the supreme court.

On top of that, he asked a dissident leader to return from exile in the United States to run the electoral commission.

Quote: Thousands, if not millions, of people paid [a heavy price] to see this kind of change in this country

The pace of change has delighted pro-democracy activists and thrown more reactionary elements off balance.

Fourteen years ago, Birtukan Mideksa spent 18 months in prison as leader of an opposition party before leaving for exile in the US.

She was as surprised as most observers when Mr Abiy invited her to return and chair the National Election Board.

“Thousands, if not millions, of people paid [a heavy price] to see this kind of change in this country… to see this opening,” Ms Birtukan told me.

“To have a former opposition leader, former dissident, to lead an institution with significant independence of action… means a lot.

“For those people who paid a price in the process, it’s really significant,” Ms Birtukan added.

‘Use ideas not weapons’

But change has inevitably emphasised the significant challenges still facing Mr Abiy.

When I caught up with him at a graduation ceremony for medical students in Jimma he appealed to them to “use ideas not weapons” and to follow the example of a nation like Japan, which recovered from World War Two to build a sophisticated economy.


Key facts: Abiy Ahmed

Abiy Ahmed
  • Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother on 15 August 1976
  • Speaks fluent Afan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya and English
  • Joined the armed struggle against the Marxist Derg regime in 1990
  • Served as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda in 1995
  • Entered politics in 2010
  • Briefly served as minister of science and technology in 2016
  • Became prime minister in April 2018

Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world but still has a vast number of unemployed young people.

This is both a reservoir of potential talent and potential dissent if Mr Abiy’s moves to liberalise the economy and tackle corruption do not succeed swiftly.

The prime minister was addressing the graduates in Jimma against a backdrop of deepening ethnic conflicts across the country.

Ethiopia has more than 80 different ethnic groups.

The divisions are old and deep rooted, but they flared up with a new intensity in the first half of last year when 1.4 million people were forced to flee ethnic conflict in the west of the country, according to the UN.

Chart showing the ethnic make-up of Ethiopia

Overall, some 2.8 million people have been uprooted from their homes in recent years. The other major concern is the fighting on the borders of the Oromia and Somali regions.

Over decades, the central government used force and a whole battery of repressive legislation to quell ethnic unrest.

Predictably, this merely gave an impression of national cohesion while unaddressed grievances festered. They erupted into protest in 2016.

‘Steel in Abiy’s voice’

Demonstrations by members of the Oromo community – Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group – precipitated the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the election of Mr Abiy.

Mr Abiy is the first leader to come from the Oromo community but has stressed that he is a leader for all Ethiopians.

Map showing Ethiopia's regions

When I caught up with him in Jimma I asked if he was the man to unite an increasingly divided country.

He was being ushered away from the crowds by his guards but the question made him pause.

Looking around he caught my eye and shouted above the noise: “Of course I am. No doubt about it!” There was steel in the voice. And then the smile returned.

Last month, Mr Abiy established a reconciliation commission to deal with some of the issues.

This may provide an outlet for the airing of uncomfortable truths about the past but the greater challenge is the federal constitution which divides regional government along ethnic lines.

Respecting ethnic rights while fostering the idea of a nation will demand considerable political and legal sure-footedness.

Presentational grey line

Abiy’s reforms in 2018

Celebrations as border is reopened
Image captionPeople celebrated as the land border between Ethiopia and Eritrea was reopened
  • May – frees thousands of political detainees
  • June – lifts state of emergency
  • July – alongside the Eritrean president declares the end of war between the two nations
  • September – reopens land border with Eritrea
  • October – appoints women to half of ministerial posts
  • November – appoints ex-opposition leader to head electoral commission
Presentational grey line

In the Tigray region, in the north, there have been ominous stirrings.

Although Tigrayans compose only a small percentage of the population they dominated the previous government.

In recent months, prominent Tigrayans in the army, security services, as well as business figures, have been accused of human rights abuses and corruption.

Travelling in Tigray one frequently hears concerns about the alleged marginalisation of the once-powerful group.

Quote: "He represents the kind of tendency to gloss over things... to try to telescope decades into months, years, to rush things"

A former communications minister, Getachew Reda, told me he thought Tigrayans were being turned into scapegoats.

It was as if only Tigrayan leaders were responsible for past abuses under the ruling coalition, he said.

Although still calling himself a friend of Mr Abiy he believes the young leader risks creating a failed state.

“He symbolises the kind of ambition, the kind of courage to storm the heavens that youth would represent.

“But he also represents the kind of tendency to gloss over things, the kind of tendency to try to telescope decades into months, years… to rush things.”

For the moment Mr Abiy has the momentum and no shortage of energy.

Posters of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are seen on a tuc-tuc in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on November 07, 2018
Image captionPrime Minister Abiy Ahmed plans to steer the nation to elections in 2020

Even in Tigray, the ordinary citizens I spoke to saw him as an inspirational figure.

Elsa Tesfaye is a small-holder farmer who lives close to the border with Eritrea and lost a brother to the war between the two nations.

For her Mr Abiy is the man who brought peace “and I thank him for that”.

‘Revivalist preacher’

She worries about ethnic divisions and whether her son – an engineering student – will be able to work in other parts of the country if the situation deteriorates.

“[The reforms] are great. But it still needs a bit of work. If ethnic conflict… and hate could be removed I would be satisfied.”

Mr Abiy is a devout Pentecostal Christian and there is something of the revivalist preacher in the way he evangelises for his vision. He has the energy, the passion and the certainty.

The question is whether he can prevent an escalation of conflicts without resorting to the repressive methods of the past, and maintain his reformist momentum up to the next elections in 2020.

Presentational grey line

Read more about Ethiopia’s reforms:

Presentational grey line

Before he left Jimma I managed to speak with Mr Abiy again.

He greeted me with a traditional embrace and kiss. This was Mr Abiy being the consummate politician.

The world should look at the example of Ethiopia, he told me, to see how people can live together in peace. Given the vast numbers of displaced it seemed more a statement of ambition than reflective of any current reality.

But on the central question of reform he was adamant.

“Would anything stop you?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he replied with a vehemence that left no room for doubt.

Related from Oromian Economist Sources:-

Abiy Ahmed: The Ethiopian Prime Minister who captured Africa’s imagination, CNN

Click here to read Analysis by Farai Sevenzo, CNN

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BBC: Letter from Africa: Africa’s history makers in 2018 December 26, 2018

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Letter from Africa: Africa’s history makers in 2018

BBC, 26 December 2018

Screen grab of PM doing press-ups
Image captionEthiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed got soldiers who had threatened him to do press-ups

In our series of letters from African writers, Ghanaian journalist Elizabeth Ohene looks back at some of the big events on the continent in 2018.

It has been a year where one is tempted to invoke the “always something new out of Africa” theory.

It is not every day you have a prime minister leading a group of soldiers into doing press-ups, particularly not when the armed soldiers had tried to force their way into the compound of the prime minister to protest against unpaid wages.

It is the type of scenario that used to end up in coups in the old days.

But Abiy Ahmed has been doing the seemingly impossible ever since he unexpectedly became prime minister of Ethiopia in April.

He is 42-years-old, and currently Africa’s youngest leader.

Quote: In diplomatic relations, the prime minister did the equivalent of making the sun rise from the west

There is nothing predictable about the man and how he has set about doing his job.

Ethiopia had been seen by critics as an authoritarian state that brushed off criticism and remained an implacable foe to neighbour Eritrea.

But within a few months of taking office, Mr Abiy had lifted the state of emergency, released thousands of political prisoners, allowed dissidents to return home and unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels.

Peace with long-time foe

Just as people were digesting the dizzying changes on the domestic front, the prime minister, in the sphere of diplomatic relations, did the equivalent of making the sun rise from the west.

He ended the state of war with Eritrea by agreeing to give up disputed border territory thereby normalising relations with the long-time foe.

The new president standing with the prime miniser
Image captionSahle-Work Zewde is Ethiopia’s ceremonial head of state, while Abiy Ahmed (r) holds political power

This came in an unexpected visit to the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and publicly holding hands with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to declare the end of the two-decade old war.

Women in power

Flights and telephone communications have been restored and there has been an outbreak of love between the two nations that has stunned the world.

And if anyone thought there had been enough surprises, in October, Mr Abiy appointed women to half of all cabinet posts.

If that does not sound impressive enough, there were other changes. Ethiopia now has a female president (Sahle-Work Zewde), a female head of the Supreme Court (Meaza Ashenafi), a female head of the electoral commission (Birtukan Mideksa), and the official spokesperson of the government is a woman (Billene Aster Seyoum).

South Africa was another country which saw a major change of leadership, but the optimism that came with the accession of Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency has fizzled out. |Click here to read the full text at BBC

Macron hails reformist Ethiopia PM Abiy Ahmed on first Europe trip. France/Ethiopie: Emmanuel Macron salue les réformes menées par Abiy Ahmed October 30, 2018

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Ministirri Muummee Dr. Abiy Ahimad affeerraa pirezidantiin Faransaay Imaanu’eel Maakroon isaaniif taasisaniin kaleessa Faransaay turtii taasisaniiru.

Jarman: MM Abiy walgahii Compact with Africa irratti hirmaataa jiru, BBC Afaan Oromoo

ለ ጠ/ሚ አብይ አህመድ ከፖለቲካ በፊት ሰውነት ይቀድማል፡ ከምርጫ በላይ መሳም ይበልጣል. ሰው ሰው የሚሸት መሪ .


 

Macron hails reformist Ethiopia PM on first Europe trip

French president Emmanuel Macron (R) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are both keen to present themselves as reformist leaders

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hailed “unprecedented” moves by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to transform his country as the young African leader makes his first trip to Europe.

Abiy, 42, has won global praise for forging peace with neighbouring Eritrea, announcing economic reforms and reaching out to dissidents, but is grappling with bloody ethnic disputes which have displaced some 1.4 million people.

Macron offered “all my support and that of France” in reforming Ethiopia and “in calming domestic tensions”, telling Abiy at a press conference in Paris: “You have here a country which loves yours but also admires the transformation you are carrying out”.

“I know how much he has risked to see these reforms through and how much these reforms are fraught with difficulties, but also how much Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has chosen a courageous path,” Macron told reporters.

“The political, economic, social and cultural transformation that you are in the process of carrying out and that you’ve committed to in Ethiopia is unprecedented,” added Macron, another leader keen to present himself as a reformer.

Abiy vowed to tackle the violence gripping Ethiopia, saying it would be resolved through “greater peace-building in the whole country”.

“The communal conflicts cannot undo the reform agenda,” he added, arguing that economic reforms would help end the violence by bringing greater prosperity.

“The reform process is contributing to greater peace in the country,” he said.

Analysts see no single cause for the killing that has stretched from the countryside to the capital and left scores of Ethiopians dead.

But they say Abiy, who inherited a vast, ethnically diverse nation used to the iron-fisted rule of his predecessors, has his work cut out for him as he seeks to impose his leadership without tipping into authoritarianism.

French officials signed a string of cooperation deals with their counterparts from Africa’s second most populous nation, in areas ranging from transport and energy to culture.

French experts are set to advise Ethiopian officials on how to open the national palace, dating back to the rule of Haile Selassie who was emperor until 1974, to tourists.


Related, Oromian Economist sources,

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has started his tour of Europe. He will start in France where he will meet with President Emmanuel Macron. Ahmed will then proceed to Germany to attend the G-20 meeting. CGTN’s Girum Chala has more


 

France/Ethiopie: Emmanuel Macron salue les réformes menées par Abiy Ahmed


Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday arrived in Germany on the second leg of his three cities Europe tour.

He was received by German’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Prime Minister is expected to have bilateral discuss with Merkel shortly.

The Premier will address 25,000 Ethiopians drawn from different European countries in Frankfurt tomorrow.

Moreover, he will attend the second edition of the Compact with Africa (CwA) meeting schedule to take place later today. At least 12 African heads of state will also attend the event.

The CwA was initiated under the German G20 Presidency to promote private investment in Africa, including in infrastructure.

The CwA’s primary objective is to increase attractiveness of private investment through substantial improvements of the macro, business and financing frameworks.

It brings together reform-minded African countries, international organizations and bilateral partners from G20 and beyond to coordinate country-specific reform agendas, support respective policy measures and advertise investment opportunities to private investors.

The initiative is demand-driven and open to all African countries. Since its launch in 2017, the CwA has sparked great interest.

So far, 11 African countries have joined the initiative- Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia. Click here to read from the source, Fana